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'Finding Your Roots' enlightens, inspires family history work

Publication: Deseret News
Date: March 24, 2012
Author: Tiffany Shill

PBS’s 10-part series “Finding Your Roots” illustrates how researchers never quite know what they’ll find when looking into family history, whether it’s in a public record, through the Internet or a story passed down from generations.

Finding your Roots,” which premieres Sunday, March 25, at 7 p.m. on KUED, Ch. 7, is hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University. The series looks into the family history of notable names like Samuel L. Jackson, Barbara Walters and Robert Downey Jr. Gates invites all to look back in their family lines and find what it is that makes them who they are.

“Genealogy is more popular than ever, but it’s far more than a solitary pastime,” says Gates, whose previous projects include “African American Lives” (2006), “African American Lives 2” (2008) and “Faces of America” (2010). “It’s a fascinating endeavor that can drastically alter both history and the way we think of ourselves.”

The premiere episode features guest biographies of musician/actor Harry Connick Jr. and composer/band leader Branford Marsalis. The two are “dear friends” who grew up together in New Orleans with its rich musical heritage.

It’s often been said that people in New Orleans don’t just tell history, they do history,” Gates says.

Gates uses “every tool available” to put together their “book of life.”

Genealogists help stitch together the past, using the paper trail their ancestors left behind,” Gates says.

Their story “illuminates the complicated history of race in New Orleans,” he says. Read more »

Two paths, one place: The ties that bind Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr.

Publication: USA Weekend
Author: Elyssa Gardner
Date: March 22, 2012
For a video featuring Branford and Harry, please visit the USA Weekend website.

“Ready to go?” Branford Marsalis prods Harry Connick Jr., placing his hands on Connick’s shoulders. The celebrated musicians and old friends are at a New York rehearsal hall for a photo shoot, but Connick can’t pry himself away from the piano.

It’s surely a familiar sight for Marsalis, 51, whose father, Ellis, gave Connick, 44, lessons more than four decades ago in their shared hometown, New Orleans.

Connick and Marsalis have remained close friends and collaborate on musical and philanthropic projects, such as supporting artists in their native city after Hurricane Katrina. Now, on Sunday’s Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS, it is revealed that while their ancestors charted very different paths, the family trees were shaped by common historical events.

Both have European ancestors who landed in the South.

Marsalis’ maternal great-great-great-grandfather, John Reinhart Learson, immigrated to New Orleans from Germany before the Civil War. The name Marsalis, however, actually was taken from his great-grandfather’s stepfather.

“My actual great-great-grandfather was a man named Isaac Black,” Marsalis notes.

Connick’s great-great-grandfather arrived in Mobile, Ala., from Ireland and wound up a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. A bit shaken by that revelation, Connick discussed it with his buddy, who reassured him. “I said, ‘Of course he was,’” Marsalis recalls. “‘What else would he have done?’ That doesn’t have any bearing on how Harry and I are with one another. It was a different time.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 23rd, 2012 — 01:07pm

School superheroes: Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo make sure music does good in H-Town

Publication: Houston Culture Map
Author: Chris Becker
Date: March 22, 2012

Music and the arts in pre-college education are the first things to go due to state deficits and blowhard politicking. Several music and arts organizations in Houston with strong educational programming, including Musiqa, Writers in the Schools, and Young Audiences of Houston, work tirelessly to provide arts-integrated learning in some of this city’s most financially challenged schools.

Friday night at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Houston organization MusicDoingGood presents pianist Joey Calderazzo and saxophonist Branford Marsalis in concert, as a duo, to benefit MusicDoingGood in Schools, which serves students 7 to 18 in after-school educational programs. Participating musicians and artists for all of the above mentioned organizations steel themselves to work with underprivileged, and often behaviorally challenged kids. Read more »

Branford Marsalis goes green, finds his roots

Publication: Mother Nature Network
Author: Gerri Miller
Date: March 21, 2012

“We certainly recycle and force our children to recycle and we compost,” says saxophonist Branford Marsalis, adding that his wife’s attempts at gardening have lacked success “because the deer and rabbits and raccoons love the garden more than you do.” He lives in Durham, N.C., “an environmentally conscious area. I’m trying to convince the city to invest in hydrogen cars for the fleet they drive. BMW and Hyundai make them. Right now there are no stations, but if they buy them the stations will follow. I have a hybrid, but I would love a hydrogen car.”

Marsalis is featured in the premiere episode of PBS’ ten-part series “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” in which the Harvard professor traces the ancestry of such celebrities as Kyra Sedgwick, Kevin Bacon, Geoffrey Canada, Barbara Walters, Michelle Rodriguez, Margaret Cho, Robert Downey, Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Martha Stewart, Wanda Sykes, Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend and Condoleezza Rice. Marsalis’ friend and fellow Louisiana jazz musician Harry Connick Jr. is also in the opening episode. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 22nd, 2012 — 02:21pm

Jazz musician Branford Marsalis will perform at the Palustris Festival

Publication: FayObserver.com
Author: Rodger Mullen
Date: March 19, 2012

Saxophonist Branford Marsalis has enjoyed a career as one of jazz’s more visible musicians, thanks to gigs as a sideman for Sting, Jay Leno’s sidekick as leader of “The Tonight Show” band and roles in movies including Spike Lee’s “School Daze.”

But Marsalis said he’s never really sought the spotlight.

A lot of popular culture is counter to my nature,” he said. “In order for it to work, there’s a certain level of superficiality that you have to blatantly embrace. I was never that guy.”

Marsalis, 51, is scheduled to perform Thursday in Southern Pines for the opening night of the Palustris Festival. He will be joined by pianist Joey Calderazzo.

A native of Louisiana, Marsalis grew up in a musical family. His father, Ellis Marsalis Jr.; and brothers Wynton, Jason and Delfeayo are all jazz musicians.

In 1980, while still a student at Berklee College of Music, Marsalis toured Europe in an ensemble led by drummer Art Blakey. He went on to play with Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry before joining brother Wynton in Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

In 1985, Marsalis began an association with Sting, playing on his “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” album. From 1992 to ‘95, the saxophonist was the leader of “The Tonight Show” band.

Since leaving “The Tonight Show,” Marsalis has kept busy recording albums and performing live. Last year, he and Calderazzo released their first album as a duo, “Songs of Mirth and Melancholy.”

Marsalis recently spoke with the Observer from his home in Durham. Following are excerpts from that conversation:

Observer: What was it like growing up in such a musical family? Was there a lot of competition?

Marsalis: It’s hard to compete when you all play different instruments. My competition was with guys who played my instrument and I loved them so much that there wasn’t really a competition. I mean, to my left was a guy named John McGarry, he’s a doctor now in San Francisco, he was incredible and I really looked up to him. And to my left was David Vitter, who’s now the senator from Louisiana. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 19th, 2012 — 03:59pm

Miguel Zenón- Blended at the Roots

Publication: irockjazz.com
Author: John Moultrie and Nyasha Nyamapfene
Date: March 2012

Miguel Zenón’s story is remarkable. Growing up in a barrio in Puerto Rico that was originally a settlement for freed African slaves, he discovered his calling in jazz as a teenager. Miguel arrived in Boston in 1996 having never studied jazz, yet 12 years later he received a MacArthur Genius grant and a Guggenheim award for his ability to blend the folkloric music of his island with America’s own original art form – jazz.

iRockJazz spoke with Miguel during his most recent visit to Chicago about growing up surrounded by the music of San Juan, how jazz changed his life, and how he has connected jazz with the music of Puerto Rico. Miguel describes more broadly where he sees jazz headed globally, and the extent to which the genre continues to transcend itself.

iRJ – Tell me a little about your home town in Puerto Rico, your early beginnings, and how you began with the music.

MZ – I grew in San Juan, Puerto Rico in a neighborhood called Santurce. It was a very traditional neighborhood linked to a lot of folklore. Music was around all the time. There was a gentleman in the neighborhood who taught music to kids for free every day. The idea was he’d teach you music theory and once he thought you were ready, you’d pick an instrument and join the marching band.

Initially I chose piano, but you can’t play piano in the marching band, so I chose saxophone. Funny enough when the time came, I was admitted to Escuela Libre de Musica – the local music school. A lot of musicians, like David Sanchez, went there. So I never got to play in the marching band because I enrolled in the school fulltime from 7th grade, learning classical music.

iRJ- So what year did you move to the US?

MZ – I moved to the US in 1996, two years after I finished high school. Around the time I was finishing at the school (I was 15 or 16) I started listening to jazz – Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, etc. Before that, I enjoyed music, but I really never thought I could make a living doing it. But when I discovered jazz, it really made a difference. It felt like a calling – something I could really relate to. I made up my mind to pursue jazz. From the time I graduated from high school, I started gigging, saving money, and trying to find scholarships, so that I could go to Berklee. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 14th, 2012 — 03:17pm

Branford Marsalis toots his horn in Napa

Publication: Times-Herald
Author: Rich Freedman
Date: March 11, 2012

Yes, Branford Marsalis toured with Sting . Yes, he did two years on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.

But, while it might make a good line or two in a lengthy biography, it’s far from who the brilliant saxophonist is. One may as well have found the credits on a cave wall.

For the record, performing with Sting was a good experience. And Leno was a decent chap. But Marsalis, 51, was never the guy to lure the former Police front man onto a recording merely to put “featuring Sting.” Nor was it ever his intention to forever be “that guy who once led the Tonight Show band.”

One thing I did learn from ‘The Tonight Show’ is that unless you’re on TV, people don’t know who you are,” Marsalis said.

Most folks who have picked up a horn — or even have a mere passive interest in jazz — in the last 30 years likely know of Marsalis. And if it’s not Branford, it’s brother Wynton or the patriarch of the jazz-playing family, Ellis Marsalis.

It’s been a life of jazz — and, more recently, classical — that keeps the father of three motivated. Not that the scene, the industry or his own body haven’t change through nearly 30 recordings as The Lead Guy and more than 50 recordings as a sideman.

Still, touring — including a March 29 date at the Napa Valley Opera House — is “the same as always,” Marsalis said, “the airlines is more of a drag.”

But he continues. The Marsalis Music label he founded in 2002. He won the 2010 Drama Desk Award for “Best Music in a Advertisement Play” in the Broadway revival of “Fences.” And he released, “The Songs of Mirth and Melancholy” duo with Joey Calderazzo in 2011.

These days Marsalis listens to his kids — a 26-year-old son and daughters 11 and 7 — and realizes perhaps it’s good to be 51. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 12th, 2012 — 09:31am

Branford Marsalis Quartet: Romare Bearden Revealed

Publication: Jazz Times
Author: Ron Wynn
Date: December 2003

Branford Marsalis’ latest session is both a celebration of an incredible artistic genius, Romare Bearden, and a marvelous salute to African-American musical heritage and tradition. It’s also another indication that Marsalis was right to desert the corporate wars and go the independent route. This disc’s nine cuts have a joyous, emphatic quality that was seldom approached on Marsalis’ final Columbia releases. There’s nothing clinical in his tone or sound, nor anything rote in his or anyone else’s solos. Marsalis’ playing reflects the passion and confidence of an improviser thoroughly immersed in each composition. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 9th, 2012 — 06:02pm

JAZZ NOTE 19 – HAVE A FAMILY REUNION

Publication: We Heart Music
Author: Dave
Date: March 5, 2012

What makes New Orleans not only a musician’s town but also a place that produces musical families? Take the Marsalis family. There’s Wynton, one of jazz’s more tireless promoters. Then you have Branford, Delfeayo and Jason. Plus, don’t forget the man who started it all, Ellis.

What is surprising about this multi-gifted family is how they never grew up playing together à la the Von Trapps, the Osmonds or Hanson. Ellis was aware of the gimmicky nature of children dressed in uniformed costumes trying to please a taskmaster of a father. He had no intention of pushing his kids to follow his tradition. If Ellis’ sons wanted to learn jazz, he would show them how, but they would have to discover what it meant to them on their own.

That’s what Ellis did most of his life, first teaching music in high school before moving on to New Orleans University. In fact, The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration is a concert that only came to fruition because Ellis was retiring from the University’s jazz department. Only at the end of a distinguished career would his sons come to play together for the very first time. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 6th, 2012 — 12:17pm

Influences: Jazz drummer Justin Faulkner

Publication: Los Angeles Times
Author: Scott Timberg
Date: February 22, 2012

For the last three years, audiences have been walking into shows by Branford Marsalis and other headliners and walking out talking about Justin Faulkner.

The drummer joined Marsalis’ group on his 18th birthday while still a high school senior; Ben Ratliff of the New York Times described him soon after as playing with “the cutthroat sensibility of the very young with something to prove. At the same time, Mr. Faulkner is listening and attuned to sound.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 5th, 2012 — 10:38am